1922 – Irish War of Independence: In Belfast, Northern Irish policemen break into the home of a Catholic family and shoot all eight males inside.

1922 – Irish War of Independence: In Belfast, Northern Irish policemen break into the home of a Catholic family and shoot all eight males inside.

On the night of 23 March 1922, two policemen, Thomas Cunningham and William Chermside, members of the “A” Specials, were on patrol on May Street when the IRA ambushed them, shooting both men dead.

At about 1 a.m. the following morning, 24 March, gunmen broke into the home of a middle-class Catholic family who lived at 3 Kinnaird Terrace, near the Antrim Road in North Belfast. Publican Owen McMahon lived there with his wife, six sons, his daughter, and his barman, Edward McKinney. McMahon owned the Capstan Bar on Ann Street, bar-owning being one of the few businesses in Belfast that allowed Catholics to progress into the middle classes.

The family was roused from its sleep by the sound of the doors being sledge-hammered down. The intruders tied up the women (including a niece and a servant) in a back room. The men were lined up against a wall, told to say their prayers, and shot. Four died on the spot. The father died six hours later in the Mater Hospital, and one of his sons, Bernard, perished a week later of his wounds. The youngest to die was Thomas, 15 years old.

His younger brother, aged 11, managed to hide under a sofa and escaped the massacre. But what was especially horrifying to the imagination of a child was the thought of the terrified boy crouching in the darkness, listening to the sounds of the shots and the death groans of his family, knowing that this would be his fate if found by the killers.

So the killing passed into the folklore of Catholic Belfast as an outstanding example of the bestiality of the city’s sectarian hatred with which they had to contend. Fifty years later, the Shankill Road Butcher killings would achieve a similar, ghastly status. Nobody was ever charged with the murders.

The killers of the McMahons were B-Specials. According to the testimony of John McMahon, who survived the shootings, and who said that though four of the five killers were dressed in the uniform of the Royal Irish Constabulary, “from the appearance I know they are ‘Specials’ not regular RIC. One was in plain clothes.”

Photo: The five murder victims lying in the Mater Hospital Morgue. In the centre is the body of Owen McMahon surrounded by his two sons Frank and Patrick. On the extreme left of the picture is Gerald McMahon who was the youngest of the victims and on the right is Mr. McMahon’s Bar Manager, Edward McKinney.

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